On 3-5 March 2016, a group of WILPF members from 11 European countries met informally in Brussels to discuss the situation for women in Europe. The group was joined by representatives from WILPF Lebanon and the WILPF initiative Women Organising for Change in Syria and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The first part of the meeting focused on the political and practical impact of the wars in Syria and Iraq on refugees and European hosts. Keywords such as fear, growing racism, new walls and fences, lack of cohesive European politics and limitations for refugees were used by the participants to describe the current situation in Europe. As part of this discussion, the WILPF representatives called on members of the European Parliament to support the Report on the situation of women refugees and asylum seekers in the EU (2015/2325) and to vote in favour of the respective parliamentary resolution.
WILPF’s Human Rights Programme Director María Muñoz Maraver joined the Brussels meeting and shared insights to trade agreements from a human rights perspective. She presented the Treaty Alliance, an alliance of civil society organisations working to develop a binding international treaty to stop human rights abuses by corporations.
Also addressed was the topic of climate change and participants from the WILPF delegation to the climate conference COP21 in Paris reported on their experiences. Looking forward to COP22 in Marrakech, the discussion highlighted the need to mainstream gender in the climate debate.
The meeting concluded with the following impressions of the situation for women in Europe:
- The situation has to be seen in the context of climate change and scarce natural resources.
- The introduction of new European border controls has created an unacceptable humanitarian outrage, where people fleeing from war are humiliated and blocked from reaching safety.
- States across Europe are developing closed border militarised responses.
- The Arms Trade is being further expanded and militias and private, unaccountable “Security Guards” are receiving arms from outside the EU as well as from national governments. The funders need to be identified.
- International Protective Regulation is being challenged by states and weakened or replaced by “Voluntary adoption of standards” called “The Ruggie Principles”, which are not binding and “soft” European agreements.
- The financial crisis is creating a fear of “The Other.” This is being encouraged by the media as a Culture of Fear.
- The politics of fear is driving new right alliances, with resulting xenophobia, and racism evident locally and nationally. This is impacting women’s rights.
- Climate justice is not taken seriously by many states and there seems to be inadequate planning for climate refugees as crops fail and there are water shortages and/or floods.
- The Sustainable Development Goals seem to be ignored in the face of immediate examples of inequality from the impact of the conflicts in the Middle East.
- There is confusion about ethical and legal liability for “extraterritorial” traders – including the extractive and arms industries, with multi-national companies refusing responsibility for the impact of their product on any one population outside the nation of product origin.
- Women suffer from disregard of their human rights in workplace situations and as refugees seeking safe asylum.
A summary of the deliberations can be found here.